by Rick Young, IRR program director
The IRR team had a quick Safari on their last few days while waiting for their flight home! They were supposed to go to Zambia for the Safari, but with the uncertainty of border closings, they stayed in Malawi. They had a wonderful experience. I wanted to publicly thank my IRR team for all the hard work, medical help you provided for those in need and the many life lessons learned. You were the hands and feet for Jesus as you let His light shine through you!
The team was able to fly back to the United States on March 27.
I especially give a shout out to Kalie and Andrew Saunders who planned, organized and lead this three-month adventure for our students. You two are the best!
Update #11 (March 23)
by Adrianna Duehrssen and Lauren Shields
Hello to the folks back home!
TLDR: We went places, no one died, and we’re coming to an airport near YOU soon!
This week our two fearless student leaders, Wes and Angie, planned, coordinated and executed all aspects of our trip. Survey says it was a smashing success! They took us all around Malawi, from Blantyre, to Salima, to the capital city of Lilongwe. Along the way, we braved crocodiles, a feisty scorpion and dive-bombing insects. Crikey!
After saying goodbye to Blantyre, Veg Delight (our weekly Indian stop), and the Chitenge factory, we made our way to the beautiful Kumbali Lake Resort. We spent two glorious days in the sun and sand back at Lake Malawi. In order to keep up our Mount Mulanje muscles, our first morning started at 4:45 am with a memorable sunrise hike. In the afternoon, we satiated our hunger for knowledge at Malawi’s Rice Research Center, followed shortly afterward by a sunset boat ride to see fish eagles up close and personal. We ended our evening with IRR’s first-ever banquet! Due to the shortage of males, some of our gentlemen were assigned not one, but two dates to our dinner. The coordination (or lack thereof)! The glamour! It was a night to remember.
The following day, we ventured out into a local crocodile farm where we found ourselves surrounded by thousands of crocodiles! Thankfully, there was a thick cement barrier between our fearless group and our purse-like predators.
Once in Lilongwe, our group had the challenge of doing our shopping in the dark during a power outage. Thankfully, our ingenuity and flashlights made sure we were able to grab what we needed for Lauren, our head chef, and Basto, the appointed sous-chef, to make some delicious gourmet meals. Walking by the kitchen often ended in being recruited for these elaborate cooking sessions, but the work was always accompanied by laughter and delicious aromas. One of the less tasty aspects of our stay was the frequent floods from our delinquent toilets, another mishap we handled efficiently as a team. RIP Kalie’s [Saunders, our instructor] tablet.
Despite all the aggressive animals and vendors we’ve managed to overcome, one of our greatest accomplishments this semester was our team’s ability to adapt and remain positive despite changing circumstances. Last week we learned our trip would be ending a little shorter than expected, and although there are no current COVID-19 cases in the country, we will be departing on the first available flight home. Our other fearless leaders, Andrew and Kalie [Saunders], have done a great job at maneuvering rapid developments while keeping our group safe and informed.
We love you all and can’t wait to socially distance ourselves from you when we return.
Update #10 (March 15)
by Kailey Perez and Wes Carle
Hello from Matandani Health Clinic in Matandani, Malawi!
To begin this week we loaded up into four 4×4 vehicles that carried us through the rocky, four-hour-long trek to the clinic in Matandani. Located a good ways away from the local district hospital and nearly two hours from the nearest city, our team was still able to see about 100-125 patients a day in the small clinic.
This week we have experienced great weather—sunny skies and warm temperatures galore. This pristine, grassy hill-top has offered nothing but general body pain, pneumonia and malaria. Our fellow medical assistants have learned lots of new things concerning tropical medicine and the many different forms of healthcare. Survey says our experience here was “a grand time” and that we’ve left as much of an impact on the people here as they have on us.
Although we hardly experienced any obstetrics patients, we still had the pleasure of conducting many general assessments and running the entire Matandani laboratory. Our fearless doctors, Dr. Faith and Dr. Chibaka, helped us get more in touch with the people and their maladies. Without them, who knows how long the queue of patients would still be.
Friday afternoon, some of our more adventurous students wandered up to a nearby waterfall. With beautiful sights, slick rocks, and lots of water, these students brought back wonderful photos, funny memories and a jammed finger. What else could one ask for?
Sabbath morning, we attended the Matandani local Seventh-day Adventist Church, some of us attended the communion service after church and in the afternoon we had the pleasure of presenting a health talk for the community. Our three presenters spoke on mental health, the importance of water and oral/dental hygiene.
I [Kailey], have learned a lot this week. Between distinguishing fungal infections and diagnosing malaria, I have had nothing but good experiences here at Matandani.
One of my [Wes] favorite parts of this week, besides the delicious food, was working with the amazing clinical staff here. Everyone is so happy, good-spirited, and dedicated to the patients here. It is inspiring!
Thank you all for your loving support to our team. We appreciate the occasional “how’s it going” and “I’m praying for you,” so keep it up!
About Matandani Mission
This particular Adventist mission was established in 1908. While the church and clinic buildings have been rebuilt since then, the Matandani legacy is well known in Malawi. Matandani Mission has an Adventist elementary school, middle school, high school, and a technical college. It also has one of the few medical clinics in this region of Malawi, and has an Adventist church with about 400 attendees each week. Matandani sits on many acres of beautiful and hilly land filled with banana and mango trees, rivers and waterfalls. In fact, in the 1940s the mission started its very own hydro-electric dam, making it one of the first places in all of the country to have electricity. We’re thankful to have been here for the last week helping support this wonderful place and their mission.
Updated #9 (March 8)
by Boss Sirisatit and Lydia Gentry
Last Sunday we traded our comfortable accommodations on the beach of Lake Malawi for tents and close-quarter living in the rural village of Namasalima. Located 93 kilometers from the city of Blantyre, Namasalima is home to a high-functioning Adventist health clinic with some very friendly health care providers who allowed us to work alongside them for the past several days. Our fellow students have rotated through different positions in the clinic each day including triage, where general patient intake forms are filled out, the lab, where various tests are run, and the pharmacy, where medications are compiled and passed out to patients. Some students were able to take part in the delivery of several babies this week and some mothers even asked that we name the newborns.
Our normal team of 12 students and 3 staff grew in size this week as we were joined once again by Doctor Chibaka and Doctor Faith, both of whom are from Malawi. We were also joined by Doctor Kreegel, who flew in to join us from the U.S. Glesni Neall, a nurse, and Ryan Neall, a physical therapist, came to visit a family member on our team and to lend a hand in the clinic. We were very thankful to have extra hands on board and they have been excited to lend their expertise to the group.
Students were able to benefit from their medical knowledge by shadowing them during the day and asking questions in the evening. Having extra personnel came in handy when at the start of the week several of us fell ill to what we assumed to be food poisoning but later realized was some sort of undetermined, short-lived virus. Ten students and one staff member fell victim to symptoms ranging from nausea, fever, diarrhea, and/or vomiting within the week, but there’s no need to worry! Everyone has made a full recovery and is ready to continue the semester even stronger than before.
As we have passed the halfway mark of our stay here in Malawi we continue to be amazed by the kindness of Malawian culture. A very caring group of church ladies have spent many hours this week taking care of our group by preparing delicious meals, cleaning dishes, mopping floors and heating water for bucket showers each day. The clinic staff have been very informative and helped each of us learn how to navigate and function in this new health care setting.
We have been invited to play volleyball and soccer with members of the community. The local church members not only welcomed us to worship with them, but insisted that we take part in the church service.
As we dive into a new week, we will be moving on to another village called Mathandani where there is a different health clinic with countless learning opportunities waiting for each of us.
Update #8 (March 1)
By Kiera Mason and DJ Henderson
After weeks of clinicals and a strenuous backpacking trip up Mount Mulanje, everyone was excited for spring break and relaxation at the Funky Cichlid on Lake Malawi. However, our idea of relaxation was actually pretty action-packed, considering all of the activities that we crammed into the week including scuba diving classes, snorkeling, volleyball, kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, cliff jumping, fishing and shopping. These experiences have been shared with a variety of dogs who have accompanied us on our adventures.
Eating has been one of our biggest past-times during our time at the lake. The many restaurants occupying the shoreline have kept our stomachs from roaring like the crashing waves we were surrounded by. One favorite spot was a restaurant named Froggy’s, which kept our ice cream cravings at bay… for the most part. To deter his ice cream cravings for the next week, [Andrew] Basto decided to gorge himself on six scoops of ice cream. Thankfully, the latest news broadcast indicated that he has not yet suffered any adverse reactions from his ice cream overdose. Some of his experience has been included in our video.
As we traveled around the lake, we met many local lakers including a national guard that taught us how to fish with our hands, Chief Dr. Mike that introduced us to his many relatives, and the Zikomo band that played custom instruments to serenade us as we played beach volleyball. One of the locals was willing to make us matching “fun shorts” for the rest of the trip. Despite some fabric issues, improper sizing and multiple delays, Lydia was able to negotiate us into some stylish team shorts that y’all can check out in the photos.
Although no one was consumed by any hippos or crocodiles, which apparently make their home farther up the lake (none were sighted), the ants did their best to protect their land from the intruding muzungu (white people/foreigners). Luckily we are bigger so they couldn’t stop our fun. About half of the group took a boat to the private island, Mumbo, and enjoyed a day exploring the beauty it had to offer. The beach was extremely welcoming, and the cliffs were readily used to launch us into the blue freshwater.
Rick Young (our program director) and his wife, Debbie, flew over to join us for spring break and make sure that we weren’t getting into too much “trouble.” Like a tropical Santa, he blessed us with gifts from afar along with greetings from our friends and loved ones. It has been fun to enjoy the lake with them and hear about what has been happening back at Union. We can’t say we envy being in our old and cold classrooms (condolences to those of you who must endure such hardship). We got to celebrate two birthdays this week and have enjoyed the excuse to eat extra cake and give out extra hugs. Thanks Lauren and Sarah!
Thank you for your love, prayers, and support. We are excited to embark on the next half of our semester and look forward to sharing our next clinical adventures with you!
Note from Rick Young:
We are closely monitoring the coronavirus situation. We receive regular security updates from International SOS and from the US Embassy. We also are in touch with and will be working with the Malawi Department of Emergency Response.
The insurance plan we purchased covers emergency medical evacuation if needed.
All said, if we at some point feel it is in the best interest for all concerned, yes we would pull the students early. As of now, we are not picking up that immediate concern.
I am currently in Malawi myself getting a firsthand assessment.
Update #7 (February 24)
by Angelina Allen and Andrew Basto
This week, our group of International Rescue and Relief students embarked on a climb of the highest mountain in Southern Africa. Mount Mulanje, while intimidating in size and terrain, proved to be a wonderful home for the five-day trek. There were no shortages of sweat and steep inclines, but the view of the mountain’s plateau on the first day, feeling the mist of the clouds on our faces, and the continual team bonding are just a few examples of the blessings we encountered.
Each day included hours of hiking—often to our next sleeping location. But other times we hiked to various peaks, including the highest point of the mountain, Sepitwa Peak. This literally translates to “do not go there,” but we went anyway (hehehe).
There was a lot of laughing up, on top of, and down the mountain—like a lot. Our discussion topics included, but not limited to, movie reviews, Taco Bell, burgers, other foods we miss, whether or not we were actually catching things on fire with our camp stoves or not, would-you-rather questions, the number of protein (*ahem* laxative) bars Basto ate, and Princess Bride quotes. We also experienced a lot of singing and incessant grunting.
River showers and pit toilets soon became valuable amenities (though one should count their blessings if the outhouse had a door) and baby wipes and sunscreen became everyone’s most treasured possessions. Despite Mulanje’s notorious reputation for having its own weather system, we were lucky enough to only be caught backpacking in the rain a couple of times. Everyone was able to recover with hot meals (including lots of oatmeal) made by designated cooking teams each night.
Evenings were spent with worship, group stretch sessions that turned into laugh sessions, and lighthearted discussions, which also usually involved laughing. Most students promptly went to bed when the sun went down as each day required painfully early rising.
During the night we had a visit from a little friend who chewed a tent and enjoyed feasting on our oatmeal and snack bars with his vicious little mouse jaws! And by day, magpie-looking birds stole dried fruit, cereal and hand sanitizer, so that was great.
In addition to physical exercise this past week, Andrew Saunders lead the students in exercising their Wilderness EMT skills by running scenarios applicable to their situation. Reviewing patient care for lightning strikes, snake bites, anaphylaxis, and other environmental ailments that were locationally plausible helped to broaden our understanding of the real-life application of our IRR education. However, the team was not met with any major medical concerns on this trip and was not forced to practice their skills under real-life circumstances. Despite a few cases of doxycycline-induced photo-toxic reactions, the constant battle to stay hydrated, sore muscles and aching joints, the group is thankful for a safe return off of the mountain.
When we got off of the mountain Friday afternoon we were met by a van to take us back to Malamulo Adventist Hospital, where we spent the weekend staying in the guest houses, re-energizing and repacking for next week’s spring break adventures. As we continue our time here in Malawi we want to again thank you all for your prayers and support. We love and miss you all!
Update #6 (February 16)
by Kiera Mason and Brittany Holbrook
This week has been a good one for us! We’ve seen some cool surgeries, met some amazing people, and treated some interesting cases here at Malamulo!
One particular patient of interest was a young deaf man—who’s sodium levels were far beyond normal physiological range and he weighed approximately 45 lbs—all at the ripe old age of 19 years! Yes, you read that right. We saw quite a few intriguing cases you wouldn’t normally see in the U.S., so this trip has been an incredible experience for all of us.
There was a cute little market behind the hospital that we all came to enjoy visiting after clinicals and classes. There we found a range of comfort foods similar to American snacks ranging from Basto’s treasured energy drinks to Lays potato chips for a good many of us to enjoy. There was also a gentleman who would make French fries (called chips here) on the spot.
Every day we experienced something new about Malawian culture, including how public transportation and fair bartering work. We also learned many applicable skills in our Travel and Tropical Medicine class including water purification, how to prepare food properly, and how to treat tropical diseases. Luckily, none of us have gotten traveler’s diarrhea yet—fingers crossed for the rest of the trip.
This week concluded our clinical rotations at Malamulo Adventist Hospital. Next up we will be climbing Mt. Mulanje, the highest mountain in Malawi!
We would like to thank everyone for all of the prayers and love throughout this past month! That’s it for now!
Update #5 (February 9)
by Lauren Schields and Adrianna Deuhrssen
We’ve survived our first three weeks here in Africa and have spent the last seven days at the Adventist hospital here in Malamulo.
Contrary to popular opinion, we’ve failed to encounter too many aggressive animals here and the spiders keep their distance. There are exceptions to this, including our transient animal resident Patty, our resident spider Norman and the chickens.
How’s the weather? Imagine Florida on steroids: ten times the summer heat, rain, humidity and mosquitoes. That aside, it’s been beautiful here and it beats the weather back in Lincoln any day.
Our living arrangements here have come with their own entertaining qualities. We found out shortly after arriving that the water shuts off at night—much to the dismay of night-going toilet dwellers. We’ve decided that our toilet is haunted, given the sounds it makes at 5:00 a.m. when the water comes back on.
Basto has had his fair share of problems this week, between having his room flooded and getting locked in multiple times.
Our time at the hospital has been a great learning experience. We’ve come to see how medicine works in resource-limited settings, from finding alternative medications for scarce drugs to improvising a neonatal CPAP device. One pediatrician fashioned a spacer for albuterol treatment out of a saline bottle, which was particularly impressive. Surgeries we’ve observed have included an emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy, a supracondylar fracture repair, and prostatectomies. Being assigned to the pediatric department is no walk in the park, as it often comes with projectile urination and nematode infested emesis. Despite our long days at the hospital, a day is never complete without an evening card game of Bang, courtesy of Boss [Sirisatit].
Highlights from the week include:
- Learning hands-on skills, such as assisting with a spinal block, cervical examination, and delivering of a baby.
- Watching a neonatal patient improve over the week.
- Losing underwear after laundry day.
- Late-night card games and movies.
- Buying 16 avocados at a time from local vendors (guacamole followed shortly after).
- Visiting the traveling market and purchasing chitengas (local fabric) and a 10 ft stalk of sugarcane.
- Entertaining the locals with our daily workouts (a local woman joined us in squats while she hung laundry).
That’s all for now. Tune in next week for more of our intrepid adventures here in Africa.
Update #4 (February 5)
by Katie Perez
This week we accomplished a semester class worth of book-work and lectures within one week’s time. Yay for Global Health! We will now spend the next two weeks doing hospital rotations to put into practice what we learned.
We experienced power outages, torrential rains, leaky ceilings, closed immigration offices, and long nights of card games and fun! Through it all, our little family has maintained high spirits as we journey on to our next station at Malamulo Adventist Hospital for the next two weeks.
Thank you all so much for your prayers and support. We can feel it from miles away.
Update #3 (January 26)—Arrival
By Lydia Gentry
Nonse (Hello Everyone)!
This past week and a half 15 International Rescue and Relief students and staff began their overseas semester in the Country of Malawi. Despite a two-day delay in Chicago, the group arrived in the Blantyre on January 18.
Week 1 focused on a Cultural Integration class each morning with local pastor Denis Matekenya. Every day after learning Chichewa vocabulary, Malawian culture and practices, and the country’s history, the students were broken into groups and given assignments to complete in town. These tasks require the students to find public transportation, purchase items in the market, locate historical landmarks and communicate with local people, all in attempts to get them more accustomed to their surroundings and resources. At the end of the day, the students shared their experiences with one another as they discovered pro tips for navigating their new surroundings.
Over their first weekend, the students spent time hiking in Zomba and Blantyre, discovering gorgeous views, swimming in waterfalls, and enjoying some free time before next week’s Global Health course.
While there have been some big adjustments so far—a major time change, heavy rainfall, power outages, water outages, and mosquito attacks, the group considers week one to be a success and is excited to see what is in store for the future.
Update #2 (January 20)—Arrival
by Rick Young, director of the Union College IRR program
The team made it to Malawi after a two-day layover in Chicago (paid by United Airlines). Angie Allen and Kiera Mason sent a message yesterday: “Today the group explored Blantyre, Malawi with our awesome chef/guide, Mack! He showed us around the city, helped students buy sim cards, and has kept us well fed (take a look at the meal)! In the evenings, we’ve been playing card games while we still have time; we haven’t been assigned any homework yet! That ends tonight, but we’re excited all around!”
This week they have a class in cultural integration where they get to learn the history of Malawi, experience the food and learn the language. This helps them appreciate and understand the many people they will work with for the rest of the trip.
Update #1 (January 15)—Departure
Thirteen international rescue and relief seniors departed for Malawi, Africa, this week to begin a semester of courses in community development and global health. Led by IRR faculty Kalie and Andrew Saunders, the group will spend time in several different locations around the country and help operate medical clinics for remote areas that receive very little medical care. The team will also staff a medical clinic for two weeks in a United Nations operated refugee camp housing 65,000 displaced people.
The overseas semester is a regular part of the international rescue and relief curriculum, which prepares students for careers in medicine, dentistry, public safety, emergency management and community development. This is the first trip to Africa; previous groups have worked in South and Central America.
Please pray for these students as they learn new skills and serve the people of Malawi. We will add regular updates and photos from the team to this story.
The team experienced some flight problems—the Lincoln flight was delayed for mechanical issues and they missed a connection in Chicago to Addis Abba. But they eventually made it.